While I'm a fan of Rufus Wainwright, I can honestly and with great certainty say I never expected to see a ballet set to his songs.
But I will Friday, when Tulsa Ballet presents "Pop Culture" at Studio K, adjacent to the company's studios at 1212 E. 45th Place.
As part of a program of three new contemporary ballets, all of which receive their world premieres this weekend, choreographer Edwaard Liang has set a new work to a medley of Wainwright's tunes.
"Edwaard's work touches me in so many different ways," said TB Artistic Director Marcello Angelini. "It has some stunning moments, moving duets, humorous dances, light and energetic pieces and some great ensemble pieces."
Angelini said convincing Liang to choreograph a new work to popular music wasn't easy.
"Edwaard ... was a bit hesitant," Angelini said. "But he loves Rufus Wainwright's music, and he felt he could create a piece on his melodies. And what a wonderful job he did."
The idea to juxtapose an evening of classical and contemporary dance with pop music came last summer during a bus ride, after Angelini and choreographer Young Soon Hue had seen a performance at the Seoul Dance Expo, the director said.
"Young Soon and I were discussing a rather unsuccessful transposition of the music of a popular band into ballet," Angelini said. "We kept talking about the possibilities that pop music can afford to a dance. At a certain point, I said to her, 'What if we were to do an entire evening dedicated to pop culture?'
"She was immediately fired up by the idea. I then (ran) it by (TB resident choreographer Ma Cong), and he was equally enthusiastic about the project."
Both choreographers created new pieces for TB, which round out the evening. Cong's work incorporates world music and various styles of dance into one energetic piece.
"It has a subtle message for me, one that is so significant during our times: Through dance, and the arts in general, every culture can harmoniously coexist with a different one," Angelini said.
Soon Hue's ballet is set to a medley of The Beatles' tunes and is, as Angelini describes, "a hoot."
"It's light and entertaining, full of surprises, with great vignettes that show off the humor and athleticism of our dancers," he said. "Don't get me wrong, the ballet is extremely demanding, but the company is having a great time dancing it."
And since TB has distinguished itself among the best ballet companies in the world, convincing the most talented and famed choreographers in the business to create new works for the company isn't difficult.
"I receive dozens, if not hundreds, of DVDs from choreographers that, driven by the reputation of the company, want to work with us," Angelini said. "The requests come from all over the world. We provide a perfect platform for them: We offer a great space in which to rehearse, and we provide a great space for the performances -- a theater built around the project of creating new works."
The amount of time each choregrapher spends setting his or her work on TB varies, but in most cases, the dancers are part of the creation of the work, rather than just its executors, Angelini said. And the works created for TB are often performed by other companies worldwide. In fact, Soon Hue's work has already been acquired by two European companies, even before its premiere.
Angelini said "Pop Culture" aims to somewhat bridge the gap between "the elitist perception of dance" and the general, pop culture-appreciating public.
"For some reason, it seems easier for an audience that has not attended a ballet performance in the past, to 'break the ice' with a title like Cinderella or The Sleeping Beauty," Angelini said. "And yet, these works are more difficult to relate to when compared to contemporary ballets. By the same token, contemporary ballets don't have a recognizable name. By creating three new works on widely popular music, I hope to provide the general audience and the community with an identifiable quantity, just like people can identify with Cinderella.
"In the latter, they know the plot; in the former, they're familiar with the music. I know that, once they experience the power, beauty, athleticism and poetry of contemporary dance, they will be hooked forever."
"Pop Culture" will be performed in TB's Studio K, a 295-seat venue designed specifically for the production and presentation of new works. The theater's size allows for very intimate performances.
It runs April 16-17 and 21-24 at 7pm and April 17-18 and 24-25 at 2pm. Tickets are $35, with discounts for seniors, students and groups of 15 or more and are available for purchase at the Studio K box office, at www.tulsaballet.org or by calling 749-6006.
On Friday, April 16, Gilcrease Museum presents its annual "Rendezvous: Artists' Retrospective Exhibition and Art Sale."
The exhibit features the work of two award-winning artists, Carrie Ballantyne and John Coleman.
The work of self-taught Ballantyne speaks to the romanticism of the American West by depicting its characters -- ranch hands, cooks, cowboys, mothers and children, to name a few.
A sculptor and avid historian, Coleman presents a knowledge of Native American history in his work.
At 10:30am on Friday, in the Rendezvous exhibition galleries, Coleman will meet the audience and offer a brief talk on and tour of his work. At 1:30pm in the Tom Gilcrease Jr., Auditorium, Ballantyne will discuss her approach to art.
There will also be a "Meet the Artists Brunch," Saturday, April 17 at 11am. Cost is $19.95. The exhibit will be on display through July 11. For more information, including hours and ticket prices, visit www.gilcrease.org.
April 16-17 and 23-24, Midwestern Theater Troupe presents The Drinking Party, an original translation of Plato's "Symposium," at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St.
Featuring an original translation by local scholar Amy Page Wilson and adapted for the stage by Midwestern's John Cruncleton, Plato's classic masterpiece depicts the brilliant luminaries of the Greek world with witty, provocative, and slightly drunken discourse in praise of love.
Wilson and Cruncleton's last collaboration was 2006's The Cyclops, an original translation and shadow-puppet adaptation of Euripides' satyr play.
The show begins at 8pm each night, and tickets are $10 at the door. More information is available at www.nightingaletheater.com.
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